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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 75

Refugees International Calls for More Aid to Displaced People and Vulnerable Populations in Burma

"Ending the Waiting Game" Says Humanitarian Crisis Is Too Dire to Wait for a Civilian Government

Washington DC, 02 June, ( humanitarian conditions in Burma require an increase in aid from the United States and other donors, Refugees International concluded in a new report. Ending the Waiting Game: in Burma argues that the crisis in Burma has reached a point where displaced people and other vulnerable populations simply cannot wait any longer for outside assistance, including health services, education, food production and building the capacity of civil society organizations in the country. U.S. sanctions against Burma's military regime currently prevent the provision of significant humanitarian aid.

"The Burmese people suffer from disease, malnutrition and poverty at alarming rates and those who have been forced from their homes are particularly vulnerable," said Kavita Shukla, Advocate for Refugees International and author of Ending the Waiting Game. "The Burmese people simply cannot wait for a civilian government to be put into power before the outside world comes to their aid. It is unconscionable to sit back and watch their plight without taking concrete measures to help them."

. Ending the Waiting Game: Strategies for Responding to Internally Displaced Peoplewhich is based on reporting in Burma and with refugees who have fled the country, calls the situation in Burma, "one of the most neglected humanitarian and human rights crises in the world." At least half a million people are internally displaced in just the eastern part of the country alone and more than one million more have fled to neighboring nations.

They have been driven from their homes by abuse from the military and government policies such as large-scale development and infrastructure projects and schemes to resettle the urban poor. In terms of health care delivery, the World Health Organization has ranked Burma 190th out of 191 countries. Surveys show that some in the displaced population have never even heard of HIV/AIDS, even though Burma has one of the most serious epidemics in Asia. One in six children under the age of five is acutely malnourished among internally displaced and war-affected people.

"The government of Burma is clearly not fulfilling its responsibility to protect and support its own citizens, but the world at large can respond to their needs without propping up the regime," Ms. Shukla said. "We do not condone the regime's brutal policies. We are encouraging action that helps the people of Burma."

Burma receives less international humanitarian aid per capita than almost any other country in the world, including others with repressive governments. Even Cuba, which like Burma is subject to United States trade sanctions, receives more than twice as much aid per person. While humanitarian assistance has been reduced since 1988, disease, poverty, malnutrition and human rights abuses have risen. The US only provides a few million dollars to international organizations working on HIV/AIDS initiatives in the country. Alternatively, the European Union maintains limited sanctions while continuing to provide aid to fight malaria and enact water, sanitation and nutrition projects.

The report explains that many groups argue that aid must be withheld to force political change. They fear that funds will be misdirected by an unsavory regime that should not be in power and is the root cause of displacement. The report provides four key reasons for providing aid to the country as long as agencies have sufficient autonomy and control over their programs.

1. Aid is needed to respond to humanitarian crises and control their spread in the region.

2. Aid is required to build the capacity of community-based organizations and other non-governmental organizations that can access areas that are off-limits to international organizations.

3. Aid can lay the foundations of democracy and contribute to a "bottom-up" social and political transition.

4. Aid can help create a national identity and be used for conflict-resolution and peace-building initiatives.

"Those of us who have been forced to flee the repressive Burmese government know how dire the situation is inside Burma," said Zaw Oo, Hurst Fellow at American University's School of International Service and democracy activist. He fled Burma in 1988 and lived on the Thai-Burma border until he arrived in the United States in 1994. "Long-term, new strategies are needed to bring about political change, but it is clear that international aid can be used to strengthen civil society groups and help lay the foundations of democracy."

Ending the Waiting Game makes a series of additional recommendations to assist internally displaced people in Burma. For example, the report recommends that the UN increase its efforts to ensure that civilians in Burma are protected from further abuse. UN agencies should play a greater role in assisting people displaced within the country's borders and donor governments and international organizations must work to convince the Burmese government to allow access to the entire population. Governments that provide aid should develop strategies that strengthen community-based organizations and civil society networks, and build the capacity of Thailand-based agencies, which are virtually the only groups providing aid to displaced people in these areas.

"The humanitarian crisis and displacement in Burma will continue as long as the political situation remains unresolved, but international efforts to convince the Government of Burma to change its policies and end oppression have been fragmented and incoherent," Ms. Shukla concluded. "The situation in Burma presents major challenges for the world at large, but it's time to make Burma a top priority. The displaced people inside Burma deserve no less."

Refugees International is a 27-year-old advocacy organization that traveled to Burma and Thailand in the fall of 2005 to analyze the situation for people displaced within Burma's borders. The organization has advocated on behalf of Burmese refugees for more than a decade.

- Asian Tribune -

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